Raising a child is a difficult feat. Raising a brown child in America is even trickier. Raising a brown, Muslim child in America seems almost impossible.
Although I experienced the stress and love of caring for my son Ibrahim, who endured an illness and eventually passed away, I am now realizing the enormity of my responsibility as a mother to two growing children.
I spend my day making sure my almost three-year-old son Musa and my eighteen-month -old daughter, Anabiya are not popping a dust ball or an ant they found on the floor into their mouths, poking their fingers into a light socket or trying to belly slide down two flights of stairs. It is exhausting to maintain this level of hyper vigilance at all times. Just the other day, all three of us were in the bedroom piled on the bed, reading. I dropped my guard for a few minutes and when I looked up, I realized I was alone.
I dashed into the kitchen to see that my son had pulled up a chair next to the stove and was precariously perched on it, staring intently at the electric burners, trying to figure out what he was supposed to do next. I scooped him up. Crisis averted. Then it was time to look for Anabiya. I knew where she was. In the bathroom sloshing the toilet water with her hands. Fantastic.
Musa and Anabiya depend solely on me for everything, from basic survival needs to more complicated things like providing them with a nurturing environment. But after rescuing my babies that day, I had an epiphany: my children aren’t always going to be small enough for me to protect. These daily near misses are a reminder of the big scary world that they are growing up in and going to face alone one day.
The Future Looks Gloomy
Fast-forward a year and the headlines read twelve people were murdered in France at the Charlie Hebdo magazine’s offices on January 7, 2015. This attack saddened me, but it wasn’t until later — when the hashtag “KillAllMuslims” appeared on Twitter, two mosques in France and a Muslim’s place of business were attacked, a Don Lemon asked Arsalan Iftikhar (a well-known American human rights lawyer) if he supported ISIS and a Shannon Bream, a FOX reporter said she worries that ‘typical bad guy’ terrorists will escape if skin color is covered — did I once again wonder how does a mother protect her brown, Muslim children in this world.
I recognize that my children’s greatest problem right now is that they hate bedtime, but from a mother’s perspective, their future looks gloomy. All the parenting books I read, the supermoms I emulate, and the Baby Center updates I subscribe to are suddenly not enough. My responsibility goes beyond the norm: I have to not only raise healthy and happy children, but I have to do so in a hostile environment.
Will Musa come home from school excluded and even ridiculed because of the Arabic name I chose for him? Will Anabiya become Ana to those people who didn’t want to take the time to learn her proper name? Or worse, will a racist, anti-Muslim bigot physically attack my innocent children? I contemplate keeping them at home, like my own little Bubble boy and girl. Because Canada is where Americans threaten to move when things look bleak, I even seriously consider moving there, until — like African-Americans, Jews and the Japanese-Americans — Muslims are no longer the bad guys.
Cultivating strong will and resilience in Musa and Anabiya is very important to me, but, will this world, seemingly filled with hatred of Muslims, only stifle them? I wonder if they can thrive in a world that may blame, hate, and punish them for crimes they do not commit, and then ask them to personally and repeatedly apologize for that same crime. After the shocking attacks in France, American Muslims rushed to condemn and explain, for the millionth time, the difference between “moderate Muslims” and the extremists who commit these crimes. People’s inability to distinguish between the two leaves me wondering if Musa’s confident leadership would be seen as a threat or a positive attribute.
Every time I am frustrated and overwhelmed with the enormity of the future, I remember the question my husband asked me. A question that always centers me and reminds me to stay focused. “Well, what did your parents do?” he asks. “I bet there was a lot of racism when you were growing up. Your neighborhood is still predominantly white.”
Lessons of our Parents
One Eid many years ago, I wore a beautiful partoog kameez my mother had hand sewn for me. My Mama had meticulously ironed and hung the flowy white outfit with its delicate pink flower pattern in my closet days before Eid. But when Eid arrived and I wore my new clothes to the midday payer, the neighborhood children giggled and shouted, “Give us back our curtains!” I was furious, not because my feelings were hurt, but because I feared my mother’s feelings would be hurt. At eight years of age, I did the only thing I could think of–I punched the leader of the pack, a blonde kid named Brian, who was in my third grade class. When he cried and left, taking his gang with him, I was sure I would be in deep trouble. Instead, my mother shook her head and fixed my hair again. “Next time try talking to them,” was all she said.
As a child, my father told me stories about the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). He taught us that the Messenger loved even in times of hate. Baba would recount the story of a woman who would toss garbage on the Prophet from her roof every day when he passed by her home. One day, when she did not hurl insults and trash at the Prophet, he went into her home to inquire about her health. He met her contempt with kindness and his behavior inspired her to embrace Islam. Baba would use stories like these, as well as Quranic verses, to drum home a message of forbearance and forgiveness in trying times. “Allah Almighty says, ‘those who control their rage and pardon other people. Allah loves the good-doers.’ (Quran 3:134)”
A New Perspective for the Future
It’s a tough world out there, but I know, Insha’Allah, how to prepare my son and daughter for it. I will teach my children the examples of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), my own parents and of anyone who overcomes adversity with grace and kindness. And I will learn from these examples and become the person my children want to emulate.
My love for Musa and Anabiya is the constant tug at my heart. A mother’s natural instinct to protect her child from all harm is part of the job description. And while I can’t insulate them from the world, I will equip my son and daughter with the proper tools to survive whatever difficulties they may face and be the best role model for them, Insha’Allah.
Every day, I pray for the strength and the wisdom to raise good people. And every night, I sing to them the same lullaby my mother sang to me, “Allahu.” I watch them drift off to a peaceful sleep and hope that a mother’s love is enough to fortify them for whatever challenges lie ahead.
Sabina Khan-Ibarra is a mama, writer and activist. She is the founder of Muslimah Montage (now AltMontage on AltMuslimah), editor at AltMuslimah, and the Social Media Co-Chair for MuslimARC.
An older version of this can be found here.
Photo Credit: Keoni Cabral